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It is no big secret that many countries in the world hold un stéréotype (a stereotype) of the French people as being often “arrogant” or borderline “cocky” in general. Now, imagine a group of people that the French themselves mostly describe as overly suffisant and prétentieux (pretentious) amongst them…
These are known in France as “les énarques.” As you may have noticed from earlier posts, the French are very friands (fond) of the jeux de mots (puns, or play on words.) In this case, the word énarque is a calembour (wordplay), formed from the merging of the acronym É.N.A. and the word monarque (monarch.)
And what is the ÉNA, au juste (precisely)? It is known as L’École Nationale d’Administration, one of the Grandes Écoles in France. A Grande École is the French equivalent of a prestigious Ivy-League university in the United States, such as Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, or a university member of the Russel Group in the UK, which includes the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford.
Therefore, an énarque is a diplômé (graduate) of the ÉNA.
You’d be surprised to find out that, contrary to what it may be suggested from its name, the ÉNA (literally the “National School of Administration”) does not offer MBA programs (Master of Business Administration.) Instead, it is essentially une machine de fabrication of the French élite, for the most part those who are destined to become fonctionnaires publiques (members of the French Civil Service), the most prestigious of which are the Conseil d’État (Council of State), the Cour des Comptes (The Court of Audit), and the Inspection Générale des Finances, all three being quasi-monopolies of the énarques.
Getting into the ÉNA is akin to taking on les Douze Travaux d’Hercule (The Twelve Labours of Hercules): Like any other Grande École (Polytechnique is another one, famed to be the “French MIT”), you first have to go through une classe préparatoire, a sort of a “hors d’œuvre” or “appetizer”, where you are in for a little “avant-goût” (“foretaste”) for the sort of “treat” coming next. The classe préparatoire for the ÉNA is conducted under a school you may have heard of from French exchange students, the famous Science Po, leading to the admission exam called le concours externe (extrenal exam.) This exam begins with l’écrit (written test), confronting you with questions ranging from le droit (law) to l’économie, and even la culture générale (general knowledge, the sort of questions that you may hear at a Monday Trivia night for example!)
Most of the candidates would be éliminés (eliminated) at this initial step, with a “survival rate” of less than 10%. The “survivants” (“survivors”) are then allowed to go to what we may describe as le plat de résistance… which is l’examen oral (oral exam), testing their mastery of l’éloquence (encore l’éloquence…), on a vast variety of subjects. This exam culminates in the ever dreaded Grand Oral, nicknamed the “Grand O”, an ordeal lasting about the same time as une mi-temps de football (a half-time of a soccer game), where the candidate is generally malmené (manhandled) by all kinds of unusual and often ridiculously puzzling questions, questions déconcertantes, which are in fact meant to test his or her capacity to think “outside of the box.”
More about the “special species” known to le commun des mortels (the mere mortals, or “the Average Joe” if you want) as les énarques is to come on Wednesday… À mercredi alors!